Morning Coffee – Wed, Feb 1

The front office is frustrated with Nurse, but how? | Siakam is overworked and under appreciated | O.G. on the block | Barnes to rep at All-Star Weekend

Is Scottie Barnes Ready to Spread His (Big) Wings? – The Ringer

If you were to design an ideal modern basketball player in a lab, they’d look like Scottie Barnes: 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and the third-highest standing vertical at the 2021 draft combine.

In the last half decade, the playoffs have become an increasingly detail-oriented chess match, with coaching staffs filled to the brim with strategists exploiting every weakness they can find. The value of multipronged players without any obvious flaws has skyrocketed. But wings like Cam Reddish and Kevin Knox II, former lottery picks who could be easily chosen as second-rounders ahead of the 2023 trade deadline, prove that physical versatility gets you only so far. You need intelligence and effort—characteristics that Barnes has flashed on and off the court.

Kristine Walsworth, Barnes’s English teacher at Montverde, conducts a Winnie the Pooh–themed learning survey with every class “to tell you whether you are an abstract or a concrete learner,” she says. “Whether you are a sequential or random learner.”

Barnes’s test results came out at the “dead center of the line,” a.k.a. Christopher Robin. “He can learn in every way possible, which makes him such a versatile person,” Walsworth says. “It’s been fascinating to me also to apply that to the way that my elite athletes play.”

Barnes’s ability to read the floor and time his movements fits perfectly in Montverde’s spaced-out, read-and-react systems, in which he filled multiple roles. He knew when to crash the boards and how to perfectly time a cut or a pass, palming rebounds with his 10-inch-wide hands and flinging the ball across the court in transition. He showed flashes of split-second decision-making ability and feel that can often serve as the only counter to the sophisticated defenses he’d face in the NBA.

Barnes also has an unusually high motor, allowing him to cover multiple places in one possession. P3’s fatigue-monitoring technology showed Barnes could go longer and harder than his peers, a limit he pushed against. Twice a week in the spring of 2021, a group of draft prospects would play five-on-five. Barnes wasn’t among them. As a high-rated prospect, he was only allowed to participate in drills, to avoid injury risk. After failing to convince the trainers to let him play, he started to referee, running up and down with the action, calling fouls, and blowing the whistle hanging from his neck.

“If someone rips off a sick dunk in his live game, he’s sprinting down the courts, giving him a high five,” Flake recalls. Sometimes Barnes directed action, telling players where to go and whether they missed screens.

“Scottie is the guy showing up on day 10 and yelling and clapping and getting people fired up,” Flake says. “He’s the one that’s bringing the energy when everyone else doesn’t have it anymore.”

P3’s workout plan toggles high- and low-load days to minimize the risk of burnout and injury. But a few weeks into camp, Flake noticed a troubling pattern. Barnes would move sluggishly the morning after off days and complain about aching knees.

When Flake asked Barnes whether he was getting in extracurricular work, he denied it. A few weeks later, he found out someone with access to the UC Santa Barbara campus gym was unlocking it for Barnes, who would shoot late into the night.

After finding out Barnes was putting in extra work, Flake sat him down and tried to explain the importance of pacing himself.

“Look, I get it,” Flake says, recalling his overall message to Barnes. “That’s part of what’s made you great, but we’re trying to build in a very structured way, and we’re doing this for a reason.” Barnes bought in, incorporating more rest and recovery into his routine, and realized he felt stronger.

Pascal Siakam on his play, minutes and trades: ‘Everything feels kind of weird’ – The Athletic

“Certainly he’s gonna see a lot of people, good defenders, a lot of action,” Nick Nurse said after Monday’s narrow loss to Phoenix. “My thing is continue to create offence — not necessarily shots. Play on the catch, make a quick decision. (If) there (are) bodies on you, you gotta get off it. That’s my main concern. And that will, I think, ease things up for him a little bit. Again, just gotta make the right play, period.”

If any of this is related to fatigue, it would be hard to fault Siakam. First off, Siakam has one of the most demanding roles in the league on a game-by-game basis. In addition to being the highest-usage Raptor on offence, he also has to cover a lot of ground defensively in a scheme that tries to limit paint attempts. With O.G. Anunoby out, that means he will have to spend more time on centres. For example, he saw a lot more of Suns centre Deandre Ayton on Monday than he did when the Raptors played Phoenix in December, although the presence of Precious Achiuwa negated some of that.

Regardless, Siakam has been carrying one of the heaviest loads in the league. Since he returned from the adductor strain that cost him more than three weeks in November, he has played 1,261 minutes — 50 more than the next-closest player, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards. For a point of comparison, Julius Randle, who the Knicks use in a similar fashion to Siakam, had played 100 fewer minutes than Siakam over that stretch while playing for coach Tom Thibodeau, who has been known for extending his players’ minutes through his career, prior to Thursday.

In January alone, Siakam has played 51 more minutes than any non-Raptor. (Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet are second, third and sixth, respectively.) His productivity took a hit in a month when they needed to go on a run. Anecdotally, it just seems like he lacks the burst he had earlier in the year.

“I’m good. I’m good, man,” Siakam said of his fatigue level. “I’m all right. Obviously, it’s a lot, but that’s why I get paid the big bucks, right?

“If you’re tired, you’re tired. But if you’re winning some games, you don’t feel as tired. Just mentally, also, (winning) is a part of it — a big part of it.”

If Siakam had continued his quality of play into January when VanVleet and Barnes found their grooves, the Raptors likely could have snuck out a few more wins. (Obviously, the same can be said in reverse for December.) Instead, the Raptors have fallen all the way out of the Play-In Tournament, a low-level goal the franchise has never considered worthy on its own. It is increasingly looking like the Raptors will be sellers at the trade deadline — although that could take on many different forms — instead of buyers, or even a team looking to improve fit in the short-term.

It is unlikely the Raptors will trade Siakam before next Thursday. Of the Western Conference contenders, only the Suns, Grizzlies and slumping Pelicans have all of their first-round picks to trade. In the offseason, the Mavericks and Trail Blazers could join that group, with the Kings potentially gaining more clarity on what they need. Introducing a player as important as Siakam to a new team is always easier to do in the offseason than in the middle of the season.

It’s no guarantee the Raptors decide to move on from Siakam that soon. From a team perspective, it would certainly be comforting to see both Siakam and Barnes, fairly similar players, thrive offensively at the same time. For his part, Siakam isn’t the type to get involved.

If Raptors decide to trade Anunoby, Achiuwa’s improved play could fill hole – Sportsnet

This brings us to Precious Achiuwa, who may just represent the tipping point if the Raptors decide to accept what would likely be a significant offer in trade for Anunoby.

Moving on from Anunoby is not a decision the Raptors can take lightly, but Achiuwa’s recent and rapid emergence could change the picture.

The 23-year-old hybrid big is rounding into shape after missing 24 games with an ankle injury and just happens to be playing the best basketball of his life.

Defensively Achiuwa doesn’t have quite the versatility of Anunoby — who is a true four and sometimes five-position defender — though he can handle himself against a good cross-section of guards, wings and centres. And for now, Anunoby is a more reliable three-point threat and proven on-ball defender against some of the most dangerous scorers in the league.

But the presence of Achiuwa — if his development curve continues — means Toronto could at least entertain the possibility of using Anunoby’s value to address other needs, with some confidence that Achiuwa will help back fill the gap Anunoby would leave in the roster.

Achiuwa’s progress is hard to ignore. Over his past 11 games he’s averaging 14.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.2 steals while shooting 57.4 per cent from the floor and 40 per cent from three while playing just 27 minutes a game.

Encouragingly as his minutes and role have grown, his production has also.

Over his last five games — which include two recent starts while Anunoby was out of the lineup and starter-like minutes when Anunoby had to leave the Warriors game due to injury — Achiuwa’s numbers spike again, up to 18.4 points and 10.2 rebounds on 62.7 per cent shooting.

He seems to have found a balance between using his speed and athleticism to attack off the dribble — he’s as fast with the ball as anyone on the roster, which can get him into trouble at times — and simply playing within the flow of the game and finding easy scoring chances. His free-throw shooting has improved significantly too, another promising sign.

“Obviously he’s getting better,” said VanVleet after Achiuwa scored a career-high 27 points in Toronto’s win over Portland. “He’s getting off (the ball). He’s going right to the next DHO [dribble handoff]. He’s playing on the second side. He’s catching in the pocket and finishing, catch-and-shoot corner threes, hitting the glass. This is what we know he can be.”

The defence is there too, with Achiuwa using his size and agility to cover huge swaths of the floor from the three-point line to the rim but more importantly doing so with an increasingly firm grasp of the game plan.

“The best thing he’s doing is talking and anchoring our defence and being our back line,” said VanVleet. “He’s been special at that end of the floor for us over the last week or two.”

What the Raptors are going to do with their roster as the Feb. 9 trade deadline approaches remains an open question. Team president Masai Ujiri flew to San Francisco on Friday and is expected to be with the club at least until they play Utah on Wednesday this week. Raptors general manager Bobby Webster has been on the trip from the beginning, though the two executives may head back to Toronto before the end of the trip (on Sunday in Memphis) to hunker down and make decisions on all the intelligence they’ve been gathering.

Their challenge is to sort through a strange season to date and determine what problems are real and which ones are just bad basketball luck. For what it’s worth, on, the expected record for Toronto, based on various statistical measures, is 27-24. That mark would place them in a tie for seventh place, a game out of sixth and the final playoff spot, and in a position to at least dream of securing a top-four seed, which was the goal when the season started.

Raptors road trip still not good enough before trade deadline | The Star

“We can get a little smarter, a little more keyed in, consistent. But we’ve been competitive, we’ve been together, we’ve been communicating. We’ve been getting better and growing as a team.”

But growing isn’t good enough; it might be if this was the first month of the season and the urgency wasn’t the same. February arrives Wednesday, the regular season is about to hit the true home-stretch and the Raptors have no time for growing.

They’ve got to be better than good. And they have to win.

“Obviously you’d like to win and learn while winning, but it doesn’t always go that way,” VanVleet said. “We’ve got some games here left in this road trip we’ve got to get and we’ll feel good about ourselves going home if we can take care of business going forward.”

It’s not that the seven-game trip has been disastrous and the Raptors still have a chance to make it a good one.

It finishes with games here Thursday, in Houston on Friday and in Memphis on Sunday. Going 2-1 would be the bare minimum to have the trek categorized as successful, three wins would be a huge boost for their confidence, finishing 1-2 or 0-3 would be the death knell on the season.

“We need every win we can get. It’s just crunch time,” VanVleet said. “It’s not time for us to try to take moral victories. We need real victories.

“We need to get in the win column. We need to stack these victories.”

Toronto’s offence is working well — the Raptors shot nearly 50 per cent from the field in Phoenix on Monday and made 11 three-pointers — but even it can be better.

It would help if Pascal Siakam could pop a really “big” game, too. He was good in Phoenix — 19 points and three rebounds is a solid game — but he wasn’t dominant as he can be. He committed three turnovers, didn’t look too active on defence and just seemed off a bit.

“Certainly he’s going to see a lot of people, good defenders … my thing is continue to create offence, not necessarily shots, play on the catch, make a quick decision,” Nurse said.

“That’s my main concern and that will I think ease things up for him a little bit. Again, just got to make the right play, period.”

The Raptors also didn’t play “soft” by any stretch but there is an increased level of physicality they need.

“We were taking some bumps and … you gotta get through some of that stuff,” coach Nick Nurse said. “You can’t let the bump jar the ball loose, you can’t let the secondary defender reach in and strip you, even if he’s getting part of your arm, you still gotta play through that. I did think it was physical, we had a lot of collisions out there both ways. I thought we really didn’t get our share of those collisions, right? There was six loose ball fouls in the second half, all on us. A bunch of collisions were offensive fouls on us.”

Raptors Scottie Barnes Earns Rising Stars Honors – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors

Scottie Barnes will be heading to Salt Lake next month to partake in some All-Star Weekend festivities.

The Toronto Raptors forward was selected to participate in the NBA’s Rising Stars Game, the league announced Tuesday. He’ll be the only member of the team to earn the invite as rookie second-round pick Christian Koloko was not selected to participate.

Barnes will be joined by fellow sophomores Jose Alvarado, Josh Giddey, Jalen Green, Quentin Grimes, Bones Hyland, Evan Mobley, Alperen Sengun, and Franz Wagner.

The rookies selected include Paolo Banchero, Jalen Duren, AJ Griffin, Walker Kessler, Bennedict Mathurin, Keegan Murray, Andrew Nembhard, Jabari Smith Jr., Jeremt Sochan, and Jalen Williams.

The league has also invited G League stars Scoot Henderson, Sidy Cissoko, Mojave King, Kenneth Lofton Jr., Leonard Miller, Mac McLung, and Scotty Pippen Jr.

Precious Achiuwa represented the Raptors alongside Barnes in last year’s Rising Stars Game. Achiuwa is now in his third year and ineligible for the game.

Rising Stars will have Canadian impact over NBA all-star weekend | The Star

Indiana Pacers rookies Andrew Nembhard of Aurora and Montreal’s Bennedict Mathurin have been chosen by league assistant coaches to play. They’ll be joined by G League rookie Leonard Miller of Toronto and Raptors sophomore Scottie Barnes at the Feb. 17 tournament.

Barnes will be taking part in his second Rising Stars event, joining 11 NBA rookies and nine sophomores selected by league assistant coaches. Miller, who plays for the G League Ignite, will be on seven-man team chosen by the G League head office.

Mathurin, the sixth pick in last June’s draft, and Nembhard, who was taken 31st overall, have played huge roles in the Pacers’ resurgent season.

Mathurin averages 17.9 points and 4.2 rebounds a game while playing nearly 29 minutes a nigh. Nembhard is a point guard who averages 8.5 points and 4.0 assists while starting 34 of Indiana’s 45 games.

The Pacers had a 24-28 record heading into Tuesday’s games, one game ahead of the Raptors.

Barnes, the fourth pick in the 2021 draft, has been on a tear lately for the Raptors and had 16 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists in Toronto’s loss in Phoenix on Monday.

Miller, 19, originally declared for last year’s draft but withdrew his name at the last minute before signing with the NBA-run G League Ignite team.

The six-foot-10 prospect is averaging 15.1 points and 8.4 assists in five G League regular season games.

Raptors’ road trip has had its moments, but is it enough? | Toronto Sun

A great all-around first quarter in Portland followed by some defensive slippage and a close game, but one the Raptors would eventually win came next.

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The loss in Phoenix may have had more positive moments than negative if you can get past that first quarter turnover fest.

Through it all hangs the question: is this mostly improved play making Raptors management more likely to start unloading at the deadline or standing pat and letting this current mix continue to find its groove?

Clouding all of it is the injury to O.G. Anunoby, one of the very players that could be on the move, although we still think that would be a mistake.

Anunoby is now not expected to see the court again until at least the first game back in Toronto which would be a week from Wednesday and only after he is re-assessed. The trade deadline is the next day.

Achiuwa is playing well, although he looked a little less assertive in Phoenix than he had in any of the previous three games on the trip.

Ironically the only starter who isn’t playing at or beyond the level that he was playing before this trip is probably Pascal Siakam.

Siakam has been the one constant in an up-and-down year for most of the Raptors if you exclude the 10 games he missed with that strained groin earlier in the season.

Siakam is still averaging 22.5 points a game for the trip, but assists are down from 6.5 a night to 3.8 a night since the road trip began.

And the rebounding average has dropped from 8.2 going into the trip to just six since they got on the road.

A lot of that could be simple fatigue from carrying this team for so long. Since the beginning of December he’s averaging more minutes than any other player in the NBA at just over 38 ½ minutes a night.

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That sort of mileage will eventually catch up to a player.

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